Copyright notice

This article is from the Encyclopedia of North Carolina edited by William S. Powell. Copyright © 2006 by the University of North Carolina Press. Used by permission of the publisher. For personal use and not for further distribution. Please submit permission requests for other use directly to the publisher.

Printer-friendly page

Wildcat Division

by R. Jackson Marshall III, 2006

A shoulder patch insignia of the 81st National Army Division., a.k.a., the Wildcat Division, 1918. Image from the North Carolina Museum of History.The Wildcat Division, a World War I unit officially known as the Eighty-first National Army Division, was organized in August 1917 with drafted soldiers, mostly from North Carolina, South Carolina, and Florida. Approximately one-third of the soldiers were North Carolinians from almost every part of the state. Two regiments-the 321st Infantry and the 316th Field Artillery-and the 321st Ambulance Company were made up almost exclusively of North Carolinians. The division was called the "Wildcat" Division in recognition of the irascible wildcats that inhabited southern states and after Wildcat Creek, which ran near Camp Jackson, S.C., where the unit was mobilized. The men adopted a wildcat silhouette as a shoulder patch, the first insignia worn by troops in the American Expeditionary Force.

In 1918 the Wildcat Division sailed for Europe where, after additional combat instruction, it was sent on 19 September to the St. Dié sector of France's Vosges Mountain region. There, as part of the French Seventh Army, the division held what was considered a quiet front, although it fought off German trench raids and endured artillery bombardments. On 19 October the Eighty-first was relieved and ordered to the rear to await transfer to the American 1st Army, which was fighting in the Meuse-Argonne offensive. While serving in the St. Dié sector, the division suffered 116 casualties.

In early November 1918 the Eighty-first moved to the front lines near Verdun, where its infantry regiments attacked German lines on the morning of 9 November. From the outset the division encountered heavy machine gun and artillery fire; heavy fog and smoke hindered visibility but also likely saved "Tuffy," the mascot of the 81st Division in World War II. Image from the North Carolina Museum of History.American lives in the attack. By late afternoon, the 322nd Infantry Regiment had captured the ruined village of Moranville. On the south side of the forest, the 324th Infantry Regiment slowly pushed the enemy back but then abandoned much of the ground by withdrawing to a safer position. The day's fighting produced mixed results, with success north of Bois de Manheulles and frustration south of the forest.

When on the night of 10 November Wildcat Division commanders received no official confirmation of rumors that an armistice might be signed the next day, the 321st and 323rd Infantry Regiments planned a dawn attack on the main German trench line. At daybreak the 321st went "over the top" for the first time and attacked enemy trench positions north of Bois de Manheulles, slowly advancing through heavy fog and shell and machine gun fire. At 10:30 a.m. the 323rd began to fight its way through the barbed wire entanglements along the German main trench line into and south of Bois de Manheulles; some Americans entered German trenches and many were either killed or pinned down under enemy fire. At 11:00 a.m. the firing abruptly stopped when the armistice of 11 Nov. 1918 ended hostilities.

Following the armistice, the Wildcat Division marched 175 miles to a rest area and in early June returned to the United States. During the short time the Eighty-first was in combat, it suffered 248 killed and 856 wounded.



Felix E. Brockman, Here, There, and Back (1925).

C. Walton Johnson, Wildcats: History of the 321st Infantry, 81st Division (1919).

Additional Resources:

North Carolina State Archives. "The Old North State and 'Kaiser Bill': North Carolinians in World War I" N.C. Office of Archives and History. 2005. (accessed October 24, 2012).

"81st Infantry Division." United States Army Center of Military History. (accessed October 24, 2012).

Johnson, Clarence Walton. History of the 321st infantry with a brief historical sketch of the 81st division, being a vivid and authentic account of the life and experiences of American soldiers in France, while they trained, worked, and fought to help win the world war ; "Wildcats". Columbia, S.C.: R.L. Bryan Co. 1919.,511

House, R. B. "Wins Distinguished Service Cross Lieut. W. O. Smith, Of "Wildcat" Division, Decorated For Gallant Service." The Orphans’ Friend and Masonic Journal. October 22, 1920.,764

House, R. B. "Chief Of The "Wildcats" General C. Batley, Pennsylvanian, Commanded The 81st In France." The Orphans’ Friend and Masonic Journal.,766

Wildcat Veteran's Association. "Wildcat national reunion: eighty-first division, November 8, 9, 10, 11, 1936, Knoxville, Tennessee." S.l: The Association]. 1936.

Image Credits:

"Military Insignia, Accession #: H.19XX.193.27." 1918. North Carolina Museum of History.

"Photograph, Accession #: H.1947.44.2.2." 1941-1945. North Carolina Museum of History.



Who was your grandfather? I'm looking for information on Srgt. Thomas Ribble Tucker


My Grandfather was in Company M of the 323rd in France in WWI. I would really like to talk with you.


My Grandfather , Belton Carlisle Plowden , and namesake , fought in Verdun , France , under American General of the Armies John Joseph "Black Jack" Pershing , as a Major in the American Expeditionary Force ( AEF ) , 81st Division . That and the fact that , He , and my Father Will - Best Carlyle Plowden ,
were graduates , of The Military College of South Carolina , aka . " The Citadel " in Charleston , South Carolina . Unfortunately , that is all that I know ,
about him . He died , when my sister was 6 mos old . It was June of 1949 . He was 55 years old . He was borne in Greenville , S C , in 1894 . I never got
the privilege to know him for this reason . His wife , my father 's and aunt , Jacqueline Plowden [ Shapard ] , mother , Laurie Best , I was able to know ,
until her death , April 16th , with her funeral and interment on the 22nd , 1979 , to know her . We , she and I , had great times together . She was 84 when she died . She never spoke much about my grandfather . I wish that she had told me more . I still have relatives , that live in South Carolina ,
Greenville and Orangeburg , most notably . If there is any information that you can provide to me , I will be greatly , appreciative .

Sincerely ,

Belton C . Plowden , II ( 101 N . 8th St . Griffin , Ga . 30224 )
she died .


Dear Belton,

Thank you for visiting NCpedia and especially for sharing your history and question. I have forwarded your question to reference services at the NC Government & Heritage Library. A reference librarian will contact you shortly to try to help with your question.

Best wishes,

Kelly Agan, Government & Heritage Library


Hello everyone
In my museum, I present the mess kit of 1st Lt William O Smith.
See also on

F Besch


My grandfather, Pvt. William R Shinn, of Cullman, AL, served in Co. M, 323 Infantry during WWI. I am trying to piece together in what engagements he served. I have his dog tag and his Wildcat shoulder patch. Any information about the 323 Infantry would be appreciated.


A family member of mine served in the hellcats and if any one can find a rufford Lewis in the records on who served please tell me he must have served in or after ww2 I have pictures of the class he graduated with and him with some commanding officers please help me find him in these photos



I'm including here some resources that you may want to check to get more information.  You may be able to locate information specifically about your grandfather's service as well as information about the Wildcats in World War I more generally.  I hope this helps.  Please feel free to post back if you need additional help. You may also want to visit your local public library to see if they have any resources as well.

  • First, the National Archives has veterans service records.  Please visit their website for more information:
  • You may be interested in the refernces and additional resources included with the entry. Some are online, and for the others, you may be able to find them at a local library or have your local library borrow them through interlibrary loan.
  • You may want to contact U.S. Army Heritage and Education Center.  Here is the link to their website: Staff there may be able to point you to resources that may be of interest.
  • The U.S. Army Center of Military History may be able to help as well.  Here is their website:
  • Here are search results on WorldCat for the subject heading for the Wildcat Division: online catalog that searches the holdings of libraries around the world.  These search results include numerous works on the Wildcat Division. You can view an individual resource and also see if it's located in a library near you. WorldCat is useful for seeing the range of works that exist on a given subject.  You may also find journal articles and dissertations included as well.  Some may even be available online.
  • Here are results from a search of Google Scholar (Google Scholar searches a variety of publication types that include scholarly and academic writing) on the 81st Division:  I always recommend weeding through many pages of the results to see if you can find anything of use.
  • Finally, here is the link to the website for the 81st Wildcat Association: They may have some resources as well.

Best wishes, 

Kelly Eubank, Government & Heritage Library


I have a type written roster of Company "H" 322nd Infantry, 81st Division (1914-1918). The list, with address, was prepared by my grand father after the war to keep in touch with the troops, as they passed he would mark their names. He attended almost reunion. I also have photos of some of the men in the unit, and newspaper clippings of some reunions. I have digital copies of these items if anyone is interested.


I just found out about my Grandfather Marshall Upright. He was in the same unit as your Grandfather. He was from Kannapolis NC. Would love to see copies. If there is anything needed to cover costs please let me know. Thanks. Marshall

Add a comment

PLEASE NOTE: NCpedia provides the comments feature as a way for viewers to engage with the resources. Comments are not published until reviewed by NCpedia editors at the State Library of NC, and the editors reserve the right to not publish any comment submitted that is considered inappropriate for this resource. NCpedia will not publish personal contact information in comments, questions, or responses. If you would like a reply by email, note that some email servers, such as public school accounts, are blocked from accepting messages from outside email servers or domains. If you prefer not to leave an email address, check back at your NCpedia comment for a reply. Please allow one business day for replies from NCpedia. Complete guidelines are available at